The optical characteristics of silicon nanowires grown on Si layers on glass have been modeled using the FDTD (Finite Difference Time Domain) technique and compared with experimental results. The wires were grown by the VLS (vapour-liquid-solid) method using Sn catalyst layers and exhibit a conical shape. The resulting measured and modeled absorption, reflectance and transmittance spectra have been investigated as a function of the thickness of the underlying Si layer and the initial catalyst layer, the latter having a strong influence on wire density. High levels of absorption (>90% in the visible wavelength range) and good agreement between the modeling and experiment have been observed when the nanowires have a relatively high density of ∼4 wires/μ m2. The experimental and modeled results diverge for samples with a lower density of wire growth. The results are discussed along with some implications for solar cell fabrication. © 2012 Optical Society of America.